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Generation GPT: What Gen Z Really Wants from Work

From freelance flexibility to AI-enhanced careers, find out how Gen Z is reshaping the future of work.

51% of Gen Z new grads are considering starting their careers freelancing.

80% advocate for the four-day workweek.

61% want to use GenAI in their careers, with 1 in 3 avoiding companies that don’t support the use of AI tools.

Fifteen years ago, Millennials entered the workforce during the Wild West of technological and economic upheaval. Amidst the Great Recession, the rowdy early days of social media, and the birth of Web 2.0, they pretty much got blamed for everything. Before long, they reshaped the workforce in profound ways over the course of a decade.

Since then, Millennials have used their growing presence in the workforce to overturn many traditional workplace norms, like enhancing flexibility, improving work-life balance, fostering career development, and accelerating tech adoption. Now, dusting off the pandemic ashes and stepping into the wonderfully weird AI era, the traditional career path is being reshaped again — this time by Gen Z. 

What are the aspirations of this new generation as they embark on their careers? And more crucially, how should business leaders adjust their strategies to meet these new expectations?

To get answers, we decided to do something crazy—we asked them. 

We surveyed 332 Gen Z students, aged 18-27, across the United States who are graduating this year or who completed their studies in December 2023. Our findings reveal significant shifts, not only compared to last year's study of a similar cohort, but also challenging entrenched norms and signaling the need for a reevaluation of old-school workplace dynamics.

Here’s what we uncovered:

Part I: Where and When Gen Z Wants to Work

Key findings:

  • Most Gen Z new grads (70%) already have a job lined up after graduation.
  • 51% are considering starting their career freelancing instead of committing to a full-time job.
  • 70% said they feel less secure about the stability of full-time employment due to waves of layoffs over the last two years.
  • Gen Z doesn’t want to be fully remote. They value in-person work.
  • 60% want a hybrid work model and 36% want to work in person. 
  • Only 4% prefer fully remote jobs.
  • 80% of Gen Z new grads think four-day work weeks should become the standard (up from 76% last year).
  • More than half (56%) want to work in tech.
  • Among those who want to work in tech, 40% want to work at a big tech company, and 22% want to build their own tech companies.
  • Freelancing for multiple companies is more appealing (17%) than working at a startup (11%) or in a tech role at a non-tech company (8%).

Despite the declining allure of 'big tech' as a secure career bet, the job market for entry-level roles remains surprisingly strong. Most new graduates have secured a job before even finishing their degree. And while 60% are drawn to a hybrid work arrangement, 36% would still prefer working entirely on-site.

So, if it’s not due to a lack of options or Gen Z’s alleged aversion to working in person — why is freelancing becoming the preferred career path for those entering the workforce?

Our research suggests three primary motivations: the pursuit of work/life balance, the desire for meaningful engagement in their work, and the need for job stability—concerns that are increasingly unmet in traditional roles. Around 70% of Gen Z respondents reported feeling less secure about the stability of full-time employment, citing recent waves of layoffs over the last two years as a significant concern. 

These motivations make a compelling case for why Gen Z gravitates towards freelance work, which inherently promises greater autonomy and aligns with their personal values and aspirations.

Part II: Gen Z's Outlook on AI

Key findings:

  • Only 1 in 4 Gen Z grads (22%) have AI-related concerns when it comes to entering the workforce.
  • Their worries are evenly split between uncertainty about how AI will impact their chosen career paths and competing against candidates with stronger AI skills. 
  • 61% want to utilize GenAI in their future careers. 
  • 1 in 3 wouldn’t be interested in a job if the company banned using AI tools at work (35%).
  • 72% already started using GenAI in their college side hustles. 
  • 64% said the emergence of generative AI technologies has made freelance work more attractive.
  • 74% feel comfortable with generative AI technology and use it on a regular basis.
  • 60% use GenAI for their studying and classwork, for 56% at least once a day. 
  • 72% save 1-10 hours per week on their classwork with generative AI, while an additional 14% save more than 10 hours per week.

Millennials, raised during the tech boom with their hands glued to the latest gadgets, have become the default tech support for older generations facing computer and internet issues. But when it comes to navigating the complexities of AI, Gen Z emerges top of their class.

Contrary to widespread fears of AI-induced job erosion, Gen Z is shockingly positive about AI, with only 22% having AI-related concerns for the workforce. As one student explained, “AI will make it easier to get the tedious processes out of the way so I can do the specialized stuff.”

Another respondent shared, “I think it will impact my career by speeding up mundane processes that humans take longer to complete,” underscoring the belief that AI will streamline their job rather than replace it. This is a startling difference from the 61% of U.S. adults who around this time last year said AI is a threat to humanity. 

Gen Z is eager to leverage AI not just for task automation but to create new value and opportunities. Sixty-one percent want to use Gen AI in their future careers, and training in AI is increasingly regarded as crucial. Fifty-two percent say that AI training opportunities are a key factor in what company they choose to work for. This probably means not many Gen Zers are looking to start their careers at giants like Amazon, Apple, or the rest of the one in four companies that have already banned generative AI applications for their employees. 

This optimism extends to career development as well; 72% believe that proficiency in generative AI technologies will make them more attractive to potential employers, and 63% feel that AI will boost their earning potential. Sixty-four percent of new grads even advocated that every college student should master generative AI to maintain relevance in the evolving job market. Welcome to Generation GPT!

Gen Z’s primary anxieties revolve not around the existence of AI, but rather around their ability to excel with advanced AI skills and how AI might shape the future of their career path. Seventy-two percent said Gen AI saves them up to 10 hours a week, which gives them ample time for a side hustle. Sixty-four percent reported that AI technologies make freelancing more attractive, and 58% said that AI boosts their likelihood of pursuing an independent career involving multiple companies. 

One student remarked, “Generative AI will allow me to explore new, innovative side hustles and full-time careers for more flexibility in the workplace.”

Part III: Salary & Side Hustles 

Key findings:

  • Salary is the most important factor in Gen Z’s job search (41%), replacing the ability to work remotely which was the top factor in 2023.
  • But most Gen Z new grads would choose slightly lower pay for the right perk.
  • 79% said they’d be OK with a pay cut if it means working for a company with a mission that aligns with their personal values or interests. 
  • 72% would choose lower pay if it meant they get to work with teammates they love 
  • More than half said they would take less money if the job included training on how to use cutting-edge technology like AI (52%).
  • Most Gen Z Grads (72%) plan to pursue a side hustle on top of their full-time job.

Salary has become the most important factor for Gen Z in their job search, with 41% rating it as their primary concern—overtaking the preference for remote work that dominated our survey in 2023. Location now ranks as the second most crucial factor in their employment decisions.

Despite the heightened focus on compensation, Gen Z's approach to job offers remains nuanced, and companies will have to bring more to the table than just a competitive salary to attract and retain them. 

A majority, 79%, would consider accepting a slightly lower salary if it meant joining a company whose mission aligns with their personal values and interests. Additionally, 72% would be willing to compromise on pay to work alongside colleagues they actually like, and more than half (52%) see value in positions offering training in cutting-edge technologies like AI, indicating a willingness to trade financial gains for professional growth and a supportive work environment.

Most college grads hope to have multiple streams of income, with 72% planning to pursue a side hustle on top of their full-time job. Their ultimate goal? To leverage these ventures as stepping stones toward full-time entrepreneurship. Among those who want to work in tech, 22% want to build their own companies—viewing their side hustles not just as supplementary income but as potential to turn their passions into their long-term careers.

When asked about the types of companies they aspire to create, Gen Z's responses revealed a strong commitment to innovation coupled with an even stronger sense of social responsibility. The most popular answers included ventures that leverage AI technology and those that aim to make a positive impact on society and the world at large.  

It seems Gen Z isn’t just gearing up to join the workforce; they're looking to revolutionize it. As one ambitious student revealed, they want to build “a company with skilled workers whose talents are on par with AI.” 

The message is loud and clear: It's time for a corporate glow-up — and business leaders will need to adapt fast because the GPT generation is about to change everything.

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